Even before Columbia advanced to regionals as one of 16 Division III teams still having championship aspirations, coach Ken Lugo was in a position that would leave many of his peers envious.
You see, most teams have one pitcher capable of leading her team at this point of the season. Lugo’s Raiders go into today’s 5 p.m. regional semifinal against Loudonville at Massillon Washington High School with three pitchers talented enough to carry the Raiders all the way to Akron, the site of next week’s state tournament.
Sophomore Kailey Minarchick pitched Columbia to its first district title in 21 years with 2-1 wins over Brooklyn and Independence, junior Amanda Sedlock tossed no-hitters this season against Lakewood and Lutheran West, and senior Christine Lyzen started off the year with a 6-1 record and an earned run average of 0.80 before a pinched nerve in her right arm kept her out of the pitcher’s circle.
The Raiders enter regionals with a 25-4 record.
“I am extremely fortunate to have three experienced pitchers who are not only exceptional talents but also have a lot of experience,” said Lugo, whose team earned the No. 4 ranking in the final Division III state poll. “We’ve only had a couple occasions this year where we’ve needed to switch pitchers during a game, but it’s nice to be able to look in the dugout and know you have options.”
Lugo said he made a pitching rotation at the start of the season, matching certain pitchers against certain opponents, and has basically been able to stick to it all spring.
Although she was unable to pitch much of the second half of the season, Lyzen has stepped in as the team’s starting catcher, which filled a need, kept her bat in the lineup and allowed her to use her experience to guide the team’s younger pitchers.
“Catching has been a bit of a challenge for me but I will do anything I can to help us win,” Lyzen said. “We needed a catcher and I caught in the past, so I just stepped up and say I’d do it.”
Minarchick is 11-2, while Sedlock, who can usually be found at third base, is 9-1.
“I can help them or talk to them because I’ve been though it too,” Lyzen said. “I always have my little quotes that I throw at them during the game to calm them down. I’ll tell them, ‘One pitch at a time,’ or ‘Only the strong survive.’”
Sedlock said her confidence has grown over the course of the season because she can compare experiences with Minarchick and Lyzen or just pick their brains.
“If I’m having trouble with a team, maybe Christine or Kailey can offer up some advice on how to get a certain hitter out or they can even step in if needed,” Sedlock said. “We all have different pitching styles but in practice we’re always pushing each other or sharing pitching tips.”
After facing a steady diet of Division I and II teams all season, Minarchick is ready for her first taste of regional competition.
“It was really exciting to win districts last week,” Minarchick said. “I wasn’t nervous in those games, so I’m not going to say I’m confident, but I think I am ready for regionals. It helped me a lot to have Christine behind the plate, too, because she knows what she’d doing but she also knows exactly what I should be doing, as well.”
Columbia has allowed only 37 earned runs this season, but will face a tough challenge against a Loudonville team that is 22-8 and known for its offensive prowess.
“I haven’t really had a chance to see Loudonville but I have heard they can really hit,” Lugo said. “I know they played Elyria early in the year and only lost 8-7. That tells you right there what kind of team they are.”
Lyzen said the Raiders’ goal at the beginning of the year was to win the district tournament. However, with a 16-0 record in the Patriot Athletic Conference under their belts and a district championship trophy already in place, the team doesn’t feel like their work is done yet.
“We had such a great time winning districts, I think we have the right mindset now going into regionals,” Sedlock said. “We’re ready for whatever happens. It’s just exciting to be part of it and none of us want it to end.”
- WHAT: Division III regional semifinal
- WHO: Columbia (25-4) vs. Loudonville (22-8)
- TIME: 5 p.m.
- WHERE: Washington High School, Massillon
- RADIO: WEOL 930-AM
- TICKETS: $6